OCEAN CITY – Once again, city officials reviewed the pros and cons of merging the city elections and national elections to the same day and again it was decided in a 6-1 vote to keep the elections separate.
Interim City Clerk Wayne Pryor said that moving Ocean City’s municipal election day in October to the national Election Day has been brought up a few times in the past, especially when discussions were being had on cutting city costs and recent inquires have brought the matter forward again.
Pryor explained that by City Charter the municipal election was established and conducted by Ocean City’s seven-member election board. The current election date is set for the third Tuesday in October in every even numbered year.
City Council members’ four-year terms are staggered so as not to allow a full change-over in a single year, while the mayor’s term is limited to just two years.
One of the objectives associated with moving Ocean City’s election date to the national elections day is to increase voter participation, according to Pryor.
In 2010, according to the city, the election brought out a reported 1,383 voters, a 24.7 percent turnout, which was a decrease from 2008 when 1,393 people voted, a 24.8 percent turnout.
Other objectives include avoiding “voter confusion, streamline the process and make it more efficient, save the taxpayers money, and maintain a ‘local feel’ of the election.”
“Obviously, you all want to increase participation of voters, that is a nationwide dilemma that we all face,” Pryor said. “Percentages in our case are around 25 percent and believe it or not based on the research we did was a little higher than the national average … for municipal elections.”
According to Pryor, the estimated cost of conducting Ocean City’s individual municipal election is $10,000. The Roland E. Powell Convention Center is currently utilized as the voting site and would continue to be used if municipal elections were to coincide with national elections.
Pryor added that other municipal elections are held every month of the year with May being most popular, and with only a few exceptions, cities and towns conduct non-partisan elections.
Out of the 157 municipalities in Maryland, there are fewer than 10 that hold their elections on the same day as our national elections.
“We do have about 6,000 voters in town and last election there was little under 1,400,” Pryor said. “I think there is an obvious need for this community to engage people, especially in this economy and the way the world is right now. Everything is viral, its instant, and I think there are ways we can reach out to people.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas questioned whether moving Ocean City municipal elections to odd years would differentiate the town from other elections.
“I am just simply saying that there is a way to stop confusion to the public by just separating us in years,” she said. “I am certainly not for moving it to the national. I think when you start seeing signs out there from everywhere from the president to Margaret Pillas people start to think ‘what level is she on’ … although it does save money and you may get more people out but by the time you get to the bottom of the list people are going to be too exhausted to even vote.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight pointed out that less than 5 percent of municipalities in Maryland vote on the same day.
“I do believe that we need to keep it in October,” Knight said as she made the motion to keep the date. “… we need to do a much consorted effort to get people out to vote.”
Councilman Brent Ashley agreed Ocean City elections need to stay in October but offered a twist on promoting people to vote. He suggested creating an “Election Fest” with “food, fun and music”. He said that 14 other areas have conducted such a festival and it has increased voter turnout by at least 6.5 percent.
“I suggest that we make voting fun again,” he said. “Let’s put the party back in politics. I think our polling places have gotten to be not exciting … years ago we used to celebrate our right to vote.”
The Mayor and City Council voted 6-1 to keep Ocean City elections in October, with Councilman Joe Hall opposed. The council also looked ahead to future discussions concerning absentee ballots.
“It [absentee ballots] allows seven days from the last day requested to the election,” Deputy City Clerk Kelly Allmond said. “It is pretty risky to have that seven-day window.”
The council agreed to address that topic in the future.